Anti-bullying organization hopes awareness will lead to change

During the month of June, Justice Against Bullying in School (JABS) will host events to raise awareness and reach out to youth affected by bullying.

June marks the four-year anniversary of Justyce Calvert’s brutal assault by her classmates at Northeastern Elementary. The final assault, after a pattern of constant bullying, resulted in a fractured nose and two black eyes. Justyce was left with no choice but to change schools.

While 2020 marks four years since Justyce’s assault, it is also the four-year anniversary of Justice Against Bullying at School (JABS), co-founded by Justyce, her sister Jaide, and their grandmother, Gwendolyn Hooker, the founder of HOPE Through Navigation. This organization was created to fight back against bullying that occurs in school, and outside of school.

The month of June is Justice Against Bullying at School awareness month, recognized by Kalamazoo County and the City of Kalamazoo. JABS has already hosted the first of three events to raise awareness and reach youth impacted by bullying.  

“We want to stay vigilant,” said Co-founder Gwendolyn Hooker. “We must make sure that people know that there is an organization that advocates and rallies for the safe treatment of kids.”

A JABS event is planned for each Wednesday of the month. The 4th Annual Raising Dough event was the first scheduled. This event traditionally takes the form of a huge community bake-sale, but due to COVID-19, became a mask and cookie sale; cookies were donated by Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan.

June 17 is the next event: Annual Bully Bash, Know Your Cyberbullying Rights. This includes an informational presentation about cyberbullying outside, and during school. The COVID-19 pandemic blurred the line between school and home as kids pursued their classes online, but Hooker says social media and iPhones brought the threat of bullying home even before the pandemic. 

“Kids can literally be bullied 24-7, in and out of school,” Hooker said. 

June 24 is the final event, the JABS Jubilation Graduation, where participants in the program will receive certificates and cupcakes in New Village Park.

Justyce is a bullying survivor, but she is not the only one. According to a study done by WalletHub in 2018, a child in the US is bullied every seven minutes. However, only four in 100 adults will intervene, and only 11 percent of peers. 

According to Hooker, changing the system, so that what happened to her granddaughter won’t happen to others, requires changes in policy and in who we elect. 

“We can’t elect people who have an attitude that bullying is just something that happens; that it’s something that kids just need to learn to deal with,” Hooker said. “Those times and days are over.”

Hooker says she would like to see a restorative justice policy implemented in schools. This would change the way bullying incidents are resolved: by healing harm that was caused, rather than just punishing the offender. This allows those most affected by the offense to have an active part in its resolution. In a school environment, this could look like a meeting between victim and offender. 

Hooker says that bullying is a problem that affects children of color disproportionately. Schools that receive less funding, like schools in urban neighborhoods, will have a vastly different educational environment then schools in Portage that receive more money, said Hooker. That leaves black children in a lower socioeconomic status more vulnerable to the effects of bullying. 

The whole world has been talking about racial justice since the murder of George Floyd. Hooker hopes this means that  changes will finally be made.

“We stand with our brothers and sisters in this fight,” Hooker said. 

JABS is partnering with Black Lives Matter for a rally and registration event on June 20. Hooker says she is glad protests are allowing problems in the criminal justice system to be discussed, but the fight can’t end there. The community needs to discuss the problems that youth face in order to create lasting change. 

“If we don’t start addressing the problems that our kids have in school,” Hooker said, “then we are going to be looking at another generation that has the same problems as we have now.”